Alcohol can cause seven types of cancer.
Alcohol increases the risk of seven different types of cancer.
For many of us, the idea that alcohol can cause cancer is hard to accept. After all, drinking alcohol is often seen as a normal and enjoyable part of life.
But regularly drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing cancer. And for some cancer types, such as breast cancer, just one drink a day is enough to increase the risk.
It may be difficult to believe that alcohol causes cancer, but in our bodies alcohol (ethanol) is converted into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde. This can cause cancer by damaging DNA and stopping our cells from repairing this damage.
Cutting down on alcohol consumption can reduce the risk and it’s not as difficult as you might think. There are lots of tools that can support you in finding ways to cut down, such as the Days Off app.
Drinking alcohol puts you at a higher than average risk of developing cancer of the larynx. The chemicals contained in alcohol pass over the top of the larynx (the epiglottis) as you swallow. Compared to non-drinkers, the risk of developing laryngeal cancer is more than twice as high for heavy drinkers.
A large review funded by Cancer Research UK that looked at lifestyle factors which cause cancer found that almost a third of cancers of the mouth and throat (30%) were caused by drinking alcohol.*When our body begins to break down alcohol, harmful chemicals can come into contact with the mouth, throat and top of the larynx as you swallow.
The upper throat is the area behind the nose and mouth that leads to the top of the oesophagus and windpipe.
A large review funded by Cancer Research UK that looked at lifestyle factors which cause cancer found that almost a third of cancers of the mouth and throat (30%) were caused by drinking alcohol.* When our body begins to break down alcohol, harmful chemicals can come into contact with the mouth, throat and top of the larynx as you swallow.
*Cancer Research UK
Around 9,101 people are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer each year in the UK. More than 1 in 10 cases (13%) are caused by alcohol.
Drinking alcohol increases your risk of a type of oesophageal cancer, called squamous cell oesophageal cancer.* This cancer starts in the cells of the skin-like lining of the oesophagus. Even light drinking increases the risk, so it’s always worth trying to cut down - small changes can make a big difference.
Each year over 55,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK and around 4,400 cases a year are caused by alcohol. Breast cancer is now the most common cancer in the UK (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) and by far the most common cancer in women.* Alcohol can increase levels oestrogen and other hormones that some cancer cells can use as fuel to help them grow. Alcohol may also increase breast cancer risk by damaging DNA in cells.
Many research studies show that regularly drinking alcohol is associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Even regularly drinking only one drink a day can increase your risk.
All types of alcohol, including wine, beer and spirits are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. While the type of alcohol does not matter, the size, alcohol content and number of drinks you have will affect your risk of breast cancer. The more alcohol you drink, the higher the chance of developing breast cancer at some point in your life.**
Some people will have a higher or lower risk than others. There’s no one single reason – it results from a combination of the way we live our lives, our genes and our surrounding environment. Unfortunately, we can’t predict who will get breast cancer, and for women who have been diagnosed with the disease, we can’t confidently say what might have caused their breast cancer, but you can take steps to lower your chances. ***
Around 5,417 people died from liver cancer in the UK in 2016.
Long term heavy drinking can lead to cirrhosis, a condition where the liver is repeatedly damaged and scar tissue builds up. Damaging the liver in this way increases the risk of developing liver cancer. Alcohol may also directly damage the DNA in liver cells.**
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK. Over 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year in the UK.* Both men and women can get bowel cancer.
Alcohol increases the risk of bowel cancer. It has been estimated that around 6 out of 100 bowel cancers in the UK are linked to drinking alcohol. The risk of bowel cancer goes up with the more alcohol you drink. But cutting down could help reduce the risk.